Article 6 – Sustainable Use of Plant Genetic Resources
This Article requires parties to develop and maintain appropriate policy and legal measures that promote the sustainable use of PGRFA. The obligation in Article 6.1 is absolute and does not contain any elements that qualify it, such as the reference to national legislation in Article 5.1. On the other hand, the list of measures given in Article 6.2 is illustrative only, providing examples to the Contracting Parties of possible measures that they can use to achieve their obligations under paragraph 6.1 (as underscored by the qualification “as appropriate”). As with Article 5, this Article draws heavily on the priority activity areas set out in the GPA, in particular: broadening the genetic base of major crops; increasing the range of genetic diversity available to farmers; strengthening capacity to develop new crops and varieties that are specifically adapted to local environments; exploration and promotion of the use of underutilized crops, and deployment of genetic diversity to reduce crop vulnerability.
In this sense, Article 6 and Article 5.2 provide a good basis for a policy that stimulates agriculture that is both environmentally friendly and has a broad genetic basis.
The Article is much more specific than the corresponding Articles in the CBD. Article 6 of the CBD, appropriately entitled “general measures”, requires each Contracting Party to develop or adapt “national strategies, plans or programmes” to reflect the measures set out in the Convention for the conservation of biodiversity and the sustainable use of its components.
“Strategies, plans or programmes” are not defined in the text of the CBD, but have been refined by the Contracting Parties, though COP decisions and national implementation. As currently understood, CBD Article 6 refers to “National Biodiversity Strategies and Action Plans” (NBSAPs), which have been adopted by most Contracting Parties. NBSAPs are intended to promote inter-sectoral cooperation, toward the goal of “sustainable use”, as set out in Article 10 of the CBD.
For purposes of applying the NBSAP concept within the Treaty, those terms are often seen as sequential:
Strategies set out specific recommendations or steps for national actions to conserve biodiversity and sustainable use of its components;
Plans explain how a strategy's specific recommendations will be achieved; and
Programmes implement strategies and plans.
Sustainable use of PGRFA is crucial to both short-term and long-term food security. PGRFA support the livelihood of every person on Earth. They are the plant breeder's most important raw material and the farmer's most essential input. Properly managed, these resources need never be depleted, for there is no inherent incompatibility between conservation (Article 5) and utilization (Article 6).
(a) pursuing fair agricultural policies that promote, as appropriate, the development and maintenance of diverse farming systems that enhance the sustainable use of agricultural biological diversity and other natural resources;
The focus of this paragraph is on promoting diverse farming systems that enhance agricultural biodiversity. Farming systems relate to the whole farm rather than its individual elements; they are driven as much by the overall welfare of farming households as by goals of yield and profitability. Farming systems are closely linked to livelihoods because agriculture remains the single most important component of most rural people's lives as well as playing an important role in the lives of many people in peri-urban areas. Thus, in this paragraph, the Treaty reaches beyond its scope of PGRFA to address broader issues of agricultural biodiversity, including at the farming system level.
Farming systems involve a complex combination of inputs, managed by farming families but influenced by environmental, political, economic, institutional and social factors. Research and extension institutions are increasingly aware that a holistic approach, drawing on both local and external knowledge, is necessary to address poverty and sustainability effectively.
The paragraph calls for policies that promote diversity in farming systems. It also calls for the promotion of farming systems that enhance the sustainable use of agricultural diversity.
The addition of the reference to “fair” agricultural policies is a reference to the need to ensure that agricultural policies do not have distorting effects on trade through the granting of subsidies disguised as measures to promote traditional farming and sustainable agriculture.
(b) strengthening research which enhances and conserves biological diversity by maximizing intra- and inter-specific variation for the benefit of farmers, especially those who generate and use their own varieties and apply ecological principles in maintaining soil fertility and in combating diseases, weeds and pests;
This paragraph draws on Priority Activity Area 11 of the GPA: “Promoting Sustainable Agriculture through Diversification of Crop Production and Broader Diversity in Crops”. The paragraph draws particular attention to the need to ensure the highest degree of intra-specific variation or diversity (Priority Area 11), as well as maximizing variation between species (Priority Area 12: “Promoting Development and Commercialization of Under-utilized Crops and Species”). Traditional farming practices and farmers management of their landraces sometimes increase intra-specific variation as a means of ensuring more stable yields and greater resistance to diseases and pests as well as greater adaptability to new environmental stresses. It is important to strengthen research to determine which elements of these practices are robust enough to persist through changes in farming practices.
Diversity in cropping systems is often of particular importance from the standpoint of pest control. Short rotations of crops with a uniform genetic base are particularly vulnerable to pest pressures. The two prime examples of this vulnerability are the tragic potato blight (Phytophthora infestans) epidemic in Ireland in the 19th century, and more recently, the corn leaf blight (Helminthosporum maydis) epidemic of the 1970s in the United States. This paragraph therefore demonstrates the importance of maintaining a diverse genetic base as a resource for farmers and plant breeders to develop crop varieties resistant to various pest organisms. More diverse farming systems may be less vulnerable to pests and diseases and may offer greater food security. Traditional farming systems tend to be more agriculturally diverse. Recent studies have revealed the extent to which traditional farmers seek to conserve and enhance the genetic diversity of their landraces as a means of ensuring yield stability and resistance to disease and changing environmental conditions. Seed is often brought in from outside the immediate farming area as a means of enhancing the diversity of local crops; in some societies such seed exchanges are sanctioned by religious or other rituals.70 Priority Activity Area 11 stresses the need to
“support efforts to identify those activities used in plant breeding, plant research and farming systems that foster on-farm diversity. Such research might include a review of non-homogenous farming systems such as those based on intercropping, polycropping, integrated pest management, and integrated nutrient management, for their possible wider applicability, as well as research to develop appropriate plant breeding methodologies. ... Support should be encouraged for developing improved tools and methodologies for assessing genetic vulnerability and identifying, if possible, the ideal equilibria in crops between genetic uniformity and diversity consistent with practical, technical and economic considerations that sustain ecosystems.” (GPA, paragraphs 174, 185 and 186)
(c) promoting, as appropriate, plant breeding efforts which, with the participation of farmers, particularly in developing countries, strengthen the capacity to develop varieties particularly adapted to social, economic and ecological conditions, including in marginal areas;
This paragraph calls for participatory plant breeding that develops varieties particularly adapted to local social, economic and ecological conditions. It expands on Priority Area 2 of the GPA.
The reference to the participation of farmers links up with the right to participate in decision-making set out in Article 9.2(c). The paragraph focuses in particular on farmers in developing countries.
(d) broadening the genetic base of crops and increasing the range of genetic diversity available to farmers;
This paragraph reflects the concerns of Priority Activity Area 10 of the GPA (“Increasing genetic enhancement and base-broadening efforts”). 72 Farmers over time have developed landraces that are particularly adapted to local conditions, including social, economic and ecological conditions, and incorporate a large degree of intra-specific genetic diversity. Intraspecific diversity (i.e. the diversity within each species as opposed to the diversity between species) is particularly important in allowing crops to resist disease or pests, or to respond to local conditions of drought, excessive humidity or other current or future ecological challenges. This is particularly important for crops on marginal lands.
As noted above, the introduction of new and improved plant varieties may increase genetic uniformity and, as local farmers turn to new varieties for greater productivity, reduce the diversity of their crops. There is thus a need to broaden the genetic base of crops, including by incorporating some of the genetic traits present in the landraces hitherto used in those localities, to the extent they allow those landraces to respond better to particular local conditions.
Farmers using traditional methods will tend to undertake such base-broadening activities through interbreeding new improved varieties with their own local crops. However, from the perspective of any individual farmer, breeder, company or institute, the costs of incorporating diverse germplasm into varieties that have already been improved may be excessive and may well outweigh the benefits they can realize. Such benefits will accrue, not only to the individual farmer, but also to the local community and to society in general.
Public support is necessary to promote these plant breeding efforts where the private sector cannot accomplish this on its own. However, due to their local knowledge and access to locally adapted landraces, the participation of local farmers is particularly useful. Approaches identified in the GPA include introgression of useful agronomic traits identified through characterization or evaluation into locally adapted or elite material for further use in breeding programmes, and base-broadening of breeders' material through incorporation of wider genetic diversity in general and locally adapted traits in particular.
These activities are closely related to the promotion of the expanded use of local and locally adapted crops and underutilized species which are the subject of Paragraph (e) below, as the incentive for producing such crops is much greater if markets can be found for them.
Increasing the diversity of materials available to farmers is one of the underlying objectives of the Treaty. Ultimately it is the farmers themselves that will need to make use of this diversity to improve their crops and protect them against yield fluctuations and diseases. While no mechanism is expressly specified for increasing the range of such material available to farmers, it is clear that the other components of the Treaty (including international cooperation, technical assistance, the ex situ collections of PGRFA held by the IARCs, and, of course, the Multilateral System) can be instrumental. Modalities may include, for example, facilitating farmers' access to ex situ collections and creating market conditions that favour such availability.
(e) promoting, as appropriate, the expanded use of local and locally adapted crops, varieties and underutilized species;
This paragraph reflects the GPA's Priority Activity Areas 2 (“Supporting on-farm management and improvement of plant genetic resources for food and agriculture”), 11 (“Promoting Sustainable Agriculture through Diversification of Crop Production and Broader Diversity in Crops”), 12 (“Promoting Development and Commercialization of Underutilized Crops and Species”) and especially 14 (“Developing new markets for local varieties and “diversity rich” products”).
For many developing countries, underutilized crops are essential for food security, but a large proportion of the resources available to plant breeders are invested in very few crops. Not all underutilized crops are “minor”. Millet and cassava (both included in the Treaty's Multilateral System) are grown over enormous areas, but generally for subsistence needs and local markets. Other crops, such as teff (Erogrostis tef Zucc.), have enormous region-specific importance, but are not produced over large areas.
In order to fulfill the obligations of this paragraph, Contracting Parties will have to address the increasing uniformity in the agricultural market place, usually the result of the promotion of new and improved varieties that are widely adapted, concentration on productivity, the rise of global consumer markets, and changes in traditional cultures and consumer preferences. Better market opportunities and supportive policies for local and locally adapted and underutilized crops and species increase the incentive for farmers to continue to use these crops and species and thus to conserve biodiversity. They also help to maintain local knowledge concerning the management and uses of these crops and species. Many local and underutilized plants have potential for more widespread use, and their promotion could contribute not only to local income generation, but also to food security and agricultural diversification, particularly in areas where the cultivation of major crops is economically marginal. The Treaty encourages current programmes for conservation, research and development to promote these crops and species.
Promoting the expanded use of such crops will require capacity-building for farmers, local communities, scientists and extension specialists in identifying underutilized crops with potential for increased sustainable use, the development of sustainable management practices, developing post-harvest processing methods and developing marketing methods.
Finally, the Treaty recognizes that it may not always be appropriate to expand the use of local and locally adapted crops, varieties and underutilized species, for example when the most productive or sustainable variety is a widely adapted introduction, or when local staple food needs are such that only major crops can be cultivated.
The Global Facilitation Unit for Underutilized Species is a multi-stakeholder initiative established in June 2002 under the umbrella of the Global Forum on Agricultural Research (GFAR) and currently hosted by IPGRI. The Unit supports and facilitates work on different aspects of underutilized species at different levels by networks, organizations, agencies and others around the world. The initiative aims at strengthening these stakeholders and encouraging new commitments for the development of underutilized species.
Initially the Unit is concentrating on stakeholders working with plant species. The main activities of the GFU include:
providing improved access to information (making use of traditional and modern media);
creating a platform for discussion of concepts, strategies and instruments to promote and facilitate the sustainable use of underutilized species; and
facilitating stakeholders' access to financial resources.
(f) supporting, as appropriate, the wider use of diversity of varieties and species in onfarm management, conservation and sustainable use of crops and creating strong links to plant breeding and agricultural development in order to reduce crop vulnerability and genetic erosion, and promote increased world food production compatible with sustainable development; and
This paragraph reflects Priority Activity Areas 10, 11 and 13 of the GPA, and is closely linked with the preceding paragraphs.
The paragraph focuses on on-farm management and conservation and the need to expand the diversity of varieties and species to be used. Research needs to be undertaken, plant breeding efforts promoted and the genetic base of crops expanded in order to make a broader range of genetic diversity available for farmers to use. This paragraph focuses on their actual use on farm.
The paragraph also stresses the need to strengthen links between on-farm management, conservation and use on the one hand, and plant breeding and agricultural development. A wide diversity of varieties adapted to local conditions needs to be bred and the seed distributed. In this context, farmers benefit in many ways from having a wide range of seed varieties and other planting materials, including:
farming in a variety of environments;
coping with production risks;
managing pests and pathogens;
avoiding or minimizing labour bottlenecks;
fitting different budget constraints;
providing variety to monotonous diets;
providing special consumption items; and
fulfilling rituals, generating prestige and forging social ties.
However, availability of a wider diversity of varieties can be constrained by poor harvests, inadequate on-farm storage facilities, insufficient means to multiply quality seed, and poor seed distribution systems. These problems can apply to seed of both local and commerciallybred varieties. Parastatal and commercial seed companies sometimes have difficulty supplying seed of varieties specifically adapted to unique and local conditions. Often they cannot offer the range of varieties, or seed of so-called “minor” crops, on which many farmers rely, because of high transaction costs and the low purchasing power of farmers. There is thus a need to strengthen local capacity among farmers and local communities to produce and distribute seed of many crop varieties, including some landraces/farmers' varieties, that are useful for diverse and evolving farming systems.
Seed regulatory frameworks aim to promote varietal and seed quality, and thereby to protect farmers from planting sub-standard seed. Seed laws commonly regulate variety testing and release, seed certification, and seed quality control, and they establish the institutional framework of national seed councils and certification agencies. Variety release systems aim at making only varieties of proven value available to farmers. Seed certification aims at controlling the varietal identity and purity throughout the seed chain. Seed quality control checks on seed quality such as viability, purity and health. Seed quality control also protects bona fide seed producers from competition by less scrupulous colleagues. Seed laws are not usually intended to influence the direction of plant breeding. However, there are significant indirect effects of the variety release systems and of seed certification requirements on plant breeding methodologies and the resulting varieties. Breeders tend to target favourable farming conditions, wide adaptation and varietal uniformity as a result.
There are a number of options for regulatory reform. In plant breeding, more emphasis could be placed on decentralising variety testing, breeding for particular niches, and making site selection, trial management and analysis more representative of farmers' conditions. In variety regulation, simpler registration proce- dures may have advantages. Further, variety regulation might be adjusted to ensure that it does not bias or limit the development and use of public and farmer varieties. Variety performance testing for release could be made more flexible. In seed quality control, standards might be re-examined for their relevance to particular farming conditions, and much of the responsibility for monitoring seed quality could be passed to seed producers and merchants, accompanied by well-defined public oversight and enforcement mechanisms.
As situations may differ from country to country, this paragraph notes that such adjustments should be carried out as appropriate.
70See Louette, D. (2000) Traditional management of seed and genetic diversity: what is a landrace? In Genes in the field: on-farm conservation of crop diversity. S.B. Brush (ed.), pp. 109-142, IDRC and IPGRI, Lewis Publishers, CRC Press LLC; Parzies, H.K., Brocke, K.V., Spoor, W. and Geiger H.H. (2001) Contrasting seed management practices for landraces of barley and pearl millet in Rajasthan, India, inferred from gene flow data. Abstract from the XVIth EUCARPIA Congress, Plant Breeding: Sustaining the Future, Edinburgh, Scotland, 10-14 September 2001.
71Each of these terms has a particular nuance, and each is problematic. “Informal” systems are not purely “farmer” systems in that markets are important. Neither are they purely “local” since both markets, and exchange through social networks connect various localities. Finally, they are not “traditional” in the strict sense, because they are constantly evolving. “Formal” and “informal”systems should not be equated with formal and informal sectors.
72See also D. Cooper et al. 2001. Broadening the genetic base of crop production. CABI, FAO and IPGRI.
73Republic Act No. 9168, An Act to Provide Protection to new Plant Varieties, Establishing a National Plant Variety Protection Board and for Other Purposes, the Philippine Plant Variety Protection Act of 2002.
74Alywin Darlen M. Arnejo, The Community Registry as an Expression of Farmers' Rights: Experiences in Collective Action Against the Plant Variety Protection Act of the Philippines, Paper presented to the CAPRI-IPGRI International Workshop on Property Rights, Collective Action and Local Conservation of Genetic Resources, Rome, 29 September – 2 October 2003.
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